Sacrament Meeting talk, September 11, 2016
It’s one thing to have faith when the sea is still and calm, and it’s clear that God is there, since His peace, protection and blessings surround us. It’s a whole new challenge to have this strong faith when our lives seem tossed upside down, and not sailing at all how we imagined them to. It is then when faith falters, and doubt knocks on the door of our heart and mind.
I use this terminiology because the story of Christ calming the waves is one of my favorites. I’ve had the great blessing of spending a semester at the BYU Jerusalem center, and that included 10 days on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. One day we took a boat across the very waters that Christ calmed. The sea was as smooth as glass. We read the story in Mark 4:
37 And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.
38 And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? 39 And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40 And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?
As we read this story, in the very place where it happened, my heart was full of faith and the Spirit, and I vowed to never let the storms of life toss me away from that belief. I promised myself I’d remember, that if it appears Christ is sleeping and doesn’t care that I perish, He is there, aware, and in control.
Fast forward 5 years, and my life had gone mostly as I had hoped: I had gone on a mission, graduated from BYU, gotten married, and was on my way to my ultimate dream of having a happy family and 12 kids. I’ve been saying I want 12 kids for as long as I can remember. I don’t know where I got the idea but it seems that God has given me an extra dose of the desire to have children.
A year ago, I was almost 5 months pregnant with our first baby. You couldn’t have known a couple more excited to be parents. We had just had an ultra sound and found out we were having a boy, and we had an amazing ultra sound picture of our little baby sucking his thumb and flexing a very distinct becep muscle. Everything was going perfectly and we felt like January 2016 wouldn’t come fast enough. We were so in love with our baby, and we were only half way through the pregnancy.
And this is where it is significant to me that we were asked to speak on doubt on the anniversary of the day that I was tempted to doubt more than ever before, last September 11.
One day last September, I began to have symptoms of labor at 20 weeks of pregnancy. We were extremely worried but had lots of faith that everything would be ok. After all, my name is Faith because I was born early, and through much faith on behalf of my parents, I have been very healthy my whole life--this is the reason for my name. I believed the same could happen for us. For 3 days doctors tried everything to keep our baby in, hundreds of our friends prayed for us, Carson fasted without stopping. We have so much faith in fasting and prayer and believed that we would see a miracle. I felt at peace that everything would be ok. And yet, last September 11 at 10:06 a.m., our baby Luke was born and only lived a few minutes.
It was the most shocking, heart-breaking course of events I’d ever experienced. It was like the light in my life turned off. The rug was pulled out from under all my plans. The 5 months worth of dreams I had of being Luke’s mother seemed to vanish in a matter of hours. Aside from immense heartbreak, I wondered, “Why wasn’t my faith strong enough to keep our baby? If God’s will will always be done anyway, do our prayers and fasting even make a difference? Was my feeling of peace even from God, or was it just my own conscience telling me what I wanted to hear? Was God even involved in this at all?” I suppose I was saying, “Carest thou not that I perish?”
And yet, these questions did not last long, because Heavenly Father calmed the raging storm in my heart by reminding me of the truths I hold too close to be shaken. There have been too many answered prayers and too many blessings to deny some of these pillars of testimony. While there were some things I didn’t understand in those moments of excruciating emotional pain, I did know that God loves me and wants me to be happy. I did know that he wants me to be a mother. And I did know that He knows best. I relied on those truths, even though I didn’t understand everything. I can truly say I never felt anger towards God. I recognized my tremendous blessings and chose to have faith that this would somehow, someday be a blessing, even though it felt like the cruelest punishment at the time.
Ironically, I think my faith has developed more through this experience than it would have had my prayers been answered the way I wanted them to. I began to be grateful all I was becoming through the loss of our baby. My testimony of the gospel grew, my compassion for others expanded. My relationship with God and my husband shot roots even more deep. My doubts about prayer and God’s involvement left as I recognized God’s hand in the big picture and acknowledged His greater plan.
Long story short, three months later I was expecting again which gave me a lot of hope. I had a procedure done to prevent an early birth from happening again, and had full confidence that this baby would make it. We were ecstatic to pass the milestone of 20 weeks, then 21 weeks, then 22 weeks. We again were over the moon excited for August 10, 2016 when we’d finally bring home a baby boy. We felt like the storm had passed, and here was our promised rainbow.
To our deepest shock, I got an infection that sent me into labor early again, and even though it’s still hard for me to believe, our second baby was born at 22 weeks on April 7, and lived about an hour. I never, ever would have thought that I would bury a baby, let alone two. But we have two little headstones in the Mesa, Arizona cemetary, one that says Luke Ralphs, and the other Samuel Ralphs.
The day our second baby was born and died, I remember thinking about a quote that had just been shared in General Conference a few days earlier. Elder Holland said, “You can have what you want, or you can have something better.” When I had heard that, it really rang true to me. And then, a few days later, as I held our dying baby, I wondered how that could possibly be true. I wanted our baby to live more than anything. How could any other plan be better? God was testing my faith even harder this time. It was very confusing to me that He would let us go through this again, we we had felt such confidence that our second son would live.
I don’t share this story to seek sympathy, but rather because I gain a lot of strength from the personal experiences of others, and I also want to point out that Satan will tempt us to doubt God throughout our life, again and again. Whether it be personal tragedy, or persecution of your beliefs from friends, or current events that make you wonder--we will begin to question. We will question our beliefs. I believe that it is ok to question, because honest questions build faith when we seek answers from God. In fact, we have questions because we don’t have a perfect knowledge. And that is exactly what faith IS--faith is choosing to believe when we don’t KNOW. As it says in the Book of Mormon, “faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.”
While sincere questioning can build faith, doubt can destroy faith, hope, and even family.
What is the difference between doubt and questions, then?
A sincere questioner is still obedient while searching for answers. A doubter gives up on living the commandments of God until answers are given. A questioner says, “Even though I don’t understand right now, I’ll act in faith.” A doubter says, “I will suspend my commitments and covenants as I wait for a resolution to my doubts.” This approach, of course, only leads to further loss of faith, since faith is created by obedience to God.
With the internet and rising persecution of our beliefs, we will most likely be confronted with ideas that challenge what we believe. Our personal experiences will also challenge our faith as God tests us. When our strongly-held beliefs are attacked or tested, it’s normal to feel uneasy or concerned. What matters is not letting that uneasiness turn us from our covenants during our search for answers. It takes faith to continue keeping the commandments while our uncertainty is being resolved. It may be tempting to withhold or limit our obedience until we find a resolution of our concerns, but that is not God’s way.
As Elder Neil Anderson has said, “When faced with a trial of faith—whatever you do, don’t step away from the Church! Distancing yourself from the kingdom of God during a trial of faith is like leaving the safety of a secure storm cellar just as the tornado comes into view.”
I share this because it’s what has saved me not only from severe doubt, but from severe depression. God doesn’t ask us to stay faithful to HIm through thick and thin for some benefit of His own, or for control over us, or for more participation in the Church. He asks us to because He knows that’s the only way we will have the strength to overcome our hardest moments.
Faith is a reaction that we choose. When your boat is sailing along calmly, happily, and then winds of doubt and storms of contradiction nearly capsize you, you can choose faith or you can choose doubt. Faith is a choice. A choice with tremendous blessings as a result.
Doubt can creep in when we feel we have exercised faith, fasted, and prayed, and still do not see the blessings we desire. It seems that our faith is in vain. The Book of Mormon has many instances that teach us that our faith is never in vain. Faith in God includes faith in His timing, and the greatest of all blessings sometimes have to wait. A prophet in the Book of Mormon compares our growing faith to a growing plant, and he says, “And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience,..., behold, by and by, ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure, and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.” I believe that as we continue to nurture our faith through obedience to God, we will one day partake of the blessings we desire so much--and they will be sweeter than ever because of the wait and sacrifice it took to receive them.
The moral of my talk is the moral of most talks--we must keep on keeping on. Keep trusting. Keep praying. Keep submitting our will to His. Keep remembering Christ and His atonement. Keep our promises to Him at the forefront of our mind. Keep trying to be like Jesus, and following HIs commandments, no matter how many questions we have. As Christ himself said, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17).
I testify that as we keep obeying with trust in God, answers to our questions will come. Personal revelation straight from above will come right to you. God does not want us to live with confusion or be unsettled. He does want our faith to be strong, and faith is developed when we act in obedience without fully understanding. Obeying without understanding is not blind faith--that's real faith.
I bear my testimony with every fiber of my being that God knows best. He knows what’s going on in your life. He knows your desires. It breaks his heart too, to see your righteous desires ungranted. I know He weeps with us and mourns with us. I promise you, HE LOVES YOU. Everything He asks you to do and to go through is out of love. We MUST obey Him. We must wake up every day determined to serve Him. We must do all we can to keep our covenants--there is nothing greater. I know there is power in obedience. There is power in covenant keeping. There is power in reaching outside ourselves. I have found that remaining obedient during our hardest times is what helps us to be happy, strong, and faithful when our boat seems to be capsizing. I believe Christ is in control. He knows what He’s doing when He lets terribly hard storms rain on good people. May we trust in Him forever by always remaining faithful--no matter what.